It's infuriating to watch politicians hailing the 15th of June as the end of roaming fees for EU citizens. It's been a battle that has raged for over a decade between Europe and the mobile networks. Europe needed to reduce complexity and promote continuity among telecommunications in Europe. It made no sense for EU citizens to be ripped off for using their phones in other EU countries. It got so bad that people were unknowingly racking up €1000s in bills just for using their phone. Politicians saw this as an opportunity, a challenge, to remove barriers and to make Europe more united. But is it all just a big fat flop? It is extremely respectable how far Europe has come in abolishing roaming charges. But the ban which was brought in today is ten years late. If it was 2007, when the original iPhone was announced and when people used calls and texts as their primary means of communication, the ban would have been monumental. But this is 2017. Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger have replaced these old means of communication because they are free. People watch Netflix and YouTube, send Snaps and connect using Skype or FaceTime. All these modern ways of communicating which billions of people use all require data. They all require 3G and 4G networks to function. So you would think the abolition of Roaming fees would include those who use smartphones (which by the way is basically everyone nowadays). You'd be wrong. Two of the three biggest mobile networks in Ireland have managed to tip-toe their way around these rules and continue to sting those who want to use data abroad.
The Networks are losing Revenue to Social Giants
Its ironic that the very networks which facilitate services such as Whatsapp and Snapchat are the ones losing out the most on this new trend. Internet giants such as Facebook and Google have shown that people want simple and free communication at their fingertips. Netflix and YouTube continue to push mobile data usage through the roof. People are now using more data than ever before and the acceleration of data usage hasn't increased this rapidly since 2013. This adoption of free services has eroded revenues for mobile networks. Before the smartphone, the networks had a monopoly, you used their service to communicate and you paid for it. Now, SMS is quickly fading and traditional calls are declining. Furthermore, its arguable that there would be no Netflix, no Facebook, no Snapchat or no Twitter without mobile networks. Yet the networks are the ones spending millions on expanding to facilitate these services. The thought that they could lose even more revenues from the loss of roaming fees has led them to scramble to defend themselves. The EU pushed for no more limits, no more barriers and no more tricks and they succeeded. That is for calls and texts. Yes, you can now call and text anyone in the EU at no extra cost, if you're into that kind of thing. For data it's more complex.
It's all about Data
Frankly I think its a joke that data was not included in the abolition of roaming fees. It will be embarrassing for the EU when its citizens realize that hidden tariffs remain, that there still barriers. Creating legal loopholes for networks to bypass the new rules is crazy. I know that more people would prefer free data than calls and texts. However, it gets even worse when you hear networks such as Three saying that they are offering free EU roaming. Don't be fooled, they're not. While they have softened their approach and now offer more data it remains significantly less than the domestic allowance. For example, on Three's €20 prepay plan, you get 60GB of data to use in Ireland but only 5GB across the EU. That's 55GB less data than the domestic allowance. Its shocking for a network that bashes Vodafone for offering customers a lower data allowance. But its not only Three who has bypassed these rules, Meteor has also chosen to follow Three. Meteor's €20 prepay plan with unlimited social media and 15GB of data in Ireland is limited to 4.2GB in Europe. Both allowances only allow for a few hours of social media and very limited time for streaming video on Netflix and YouTube.
'Just use the Wifi'
A remark which is often said to defend the roaming loopholes. But Wifi has its limits, for one its not available everywhere, and where it is available it is usually locked with a password. Places such as hotels and coffee shops generally offer free wifi that's open to everyone, but thats its flaw, its open so your private information is visible to everyone around you. In some places such as campsites, you're forced to pay to use wifi, which most of the time is slow and unstable. When you're on holiday you are usually travelling and touring, a wifi network doesn't follow you everywhere, but a mobile network does.
Its not all Doom and Gloom
Out of the three mobile networks in Ireland and the seven mobile virtual networks, only one has chosen to honour the new rules. But who is it? You will be surprised. Vodafone. Yes Vodafone, the network notorious for being the most expensive in Ireland. It's a good time to be a Vodafone customer. Customers recently received texts saying their data allowances were going to double (in some cases) for free. And you can now use all your domestic data abroad. To be fair, Vodafone is best suited to offering this anyway, having the biggest international presence of any network in the world. Also, Vodafone's domestic allowances are lower than those offered by Three and Meteor. However, at the end of the day, if you ever plan to go abroad in the EU, Vodafone will be the only network to truly cover you. It should also be mentioned that Vodafone remains the only Irish network to offer 4G Roaming Abroad.
The Positives are overshadowed by the major Negative
To conclude, I think the announcement of free roaming across Europe is great. But its flawed becuase the vast majority of people use their phones daily to connect with each other on services like Snapchat, Whatsapp and Instagram. The era of SMS and traditional phone calls is quickly dissappearing and networks will need to find new ways to make up for the loss of revenues and its not going to be roaming fees. The worst part about the entire announcement is that every single Irish network (except Vodafone) has managed to tip-toe around the rules and continue to rip customers off.